The biting realities of the economic recession in Nigeria may have spurred creative thinking among youths in Benue, as a group of young development enthusiasts have conceived plans to engage out-of-school youths in productive ventures.
Using Benue South as the take-off point, the group led by Andy Obeya, seeks to domicile proven models to engage vulnerable youths and other groups of young Nigerians in the area with the aim of keeping them out of life of crime.
Obeya disclosed to Independent that they have already done a pilot of the programme, which seeks to translate the resource endowment of the Southern part of Benue to economic advantages for the youths, the state and the country at large.
“We shall work largely with the out of school youths like the political thugs in an attempt to engender the kind of behavioural change that will frees them from the unhealthy hold of the politicians, most of whom see them as being only good for thuggery,” Obeya told Independent.
He further disclosed that research and documentations of needs and strategy towards an effective start-up in the early part of next is already in progress, stating also that there are plans to involve international development agencies.
“The Otukpo rice mills used to be the largest of such facilities anywhere in the whole of West Africa. Growing up and until not too long ago, we saw throngs of trucks from all parts of Nigeria and Africa line up daily to pick up large quantities of rice milled in Otukpo to other parts of the world. This created wealth among uncountable numbers of people in the area.
“That mill as we speak is a complete shadow of what we knew of it. Similarly, local farms that used to supply the millers have all died. Our thinking is towards helping to rejuvenate investments and wealth creation opportunities like that for our youths,” he said.
Speaking further, Obeya said there is an urgent need for the youths in Benue, especially those from the southern part of the state to unlock their potential.
He said: “We are from a background where we have been programmed to acquire education, get government jobs for security, marry, work and retire into politics or pension
“This mindset is primitive and has killed a lot of innate abilities that would have created wealth and products that aid humanity today
“That mindset has limited a lot of young people who feel the only way out is to get government jobs, whereas they could develop their ideas, engage in businesses that could have also created wealth for them and employment for others.”
Continuing, Obeya said, “We need to begin to look out for alternatives to jobs where there are no jobs. And even when we are engaged, nothing stops us from acquiring other skills that could provide alternative income should the job ends.”
He said attempts will also be made to encourage farmers in the area to go into the production of crops that were not considered niche crops for the area with the possibility of turning them into economic value for the state.
“Up north, yams are being farmed and harvested in commercial quantity. What does that say? That Benue may have lost that economic advantage of being the largest producer of yams to other states. So what could be done is for us to go into the farming of crops hitherto farmed elsewhere. We have the soil,” he said.
Benue South consists mainly of agrarian communities with yam, cassava, rice, oil palm, grains, groundnuts and other legumes as the main crops produces. Most of these crops are produced at subsistence level and consumed locally.
However, its nearness to the commercially vibrant South-East and South-South parts of the country seems to have increased the pressure on the area to expand the scope of economic engagements.
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